Confessions of a Gamer Mom

Ok I admit it.  I love video games.  I am just a few weeks away from 45 years old, mother of two - one of whom is significantly disabled, with a lot on my plate.  But these games have been a part of my life one way or another for what turns out to be a fairly long time now and aside from the entertainment factor, I do believe that they provide me with two very important things:  escape/release, and another way to connect with my older son. 

Believe it or not it all started with Pong, yes, that Pong.  The original video game, the white dot batted back and forth across the black screen using white bars (“paddles”) that you could only move up or down.  You could play against the game or someone else, you could set the speed of the white dot to increase the difficulty, you could also make your paddles shorter to increase the difficulty.  Amazing!  Well, it was at the time, we are talking mid ’70’s here.  For those of you have never seen it, here you go:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPkUvfL8T1I&feature=related

I know right?

When I was a bit older things started getting more interesting on the gaming front.  I have a younger brother who was very much in to them.  My parents had split up and he and I became best friends in the aftermath.  So it was something we did together.  He was much better at them then I was, my hand-eye coordination is not as good as his.  So many times he would be on the controller while I would be the one figuring out what to do, where to go, etc.  We made a good team.  As the games and systems advanced, so did our skills. 

Then I went off to college, became a nurse, went to grad school, became a nurse practitioner, got married and had two babies.  My brother, believe it or not, went on to become a video game designer.  So there was a long period of time for me when I didn’t play at all.  I did play a few desktop computer games like Myst but no actual console type video games.  That is until my oldest son was old enough to be interested in them, and I thought we should at least check out some of my brother’s work...so we bought a Nintendo GameCube.  My first real addiction was with Animal Crossing.  Anyone else familiar with this one?  There have been several incarnations of it.  On the surface it looks like a sweet, innocent, fun little game the whole family can play there is no violence or language or anything potentially objectionable.  The reality is that it is evil incarnate.  This game is played in real time so a day in the game is 24 hours and you set the game clock to correlate with your time zone.  In order to accomplish things in the game, you have to play ALL THE TIME.  Certain things can only be accomplished at certain times of day, under certain weather conditions, at the right time of year, and on and on.  It never ends.  Ever.  I was playing early in the morning, late at night, and various times in between whenever I had a little time.  Which is baffling to me now, since the sound and in this game is probably the most annoying thing you’ve ever heard. 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNxjGDGBYlg

Yes, I really played this.  A lot.

Then I branched out from the safe, freakish little world of gibberish talking creatures in a cute town to more grown-up fare.  I discovered Need for Speed.  I’ve always loved the driving games at arcades, and this was just as good.  Turns out there was a whole series of them too.  I started with Hot Pursuit then moved on to Underground 2 and Most Wanted.  Those were really the best.  I have played a few of the ones that have come out since Most Wanted  but haven’t really liked any of them.  Underground 2 was the best though, it was like, woooo I get to drive fast AND make my car pretty and change how it looks as many times as I want!  I swear it was like crack, the in-game garage where you could fancy-up your car was like Barbie’s Dream House for me.   Wondering when I had time to play these games?  Late night, after everyone was asleep.  This is what I would do.  If Josh wasn’t keeping me busy I could watch Zach play sometimes during the day, so that was where the game connection with him started. 

Years went by, the NFS franchise was losing its mojo, Zach was getting older and along came Guitar Hero.  Now I know I’m not the only mom out there who was playing this one.  This was great though, so much fun to unleash your inner rock goddess!  Also hilarious when playing for the first time, we were terrible and couldn’t stop laughing.  I really enjoyed the first two, haven’t liked them much since, mostly because I just haven’t liked the music so much.  But the first two, definitely.  I can’t go beyond medium mode without failing badly though I am pretty good at that level.  For reasons I cannot explain I can only play in my bare feet, I cannot wear footwear of any kind while playing this game.  Weird. 
 
Not too long after GH I was introduced to the granddaddy of all video games, World of Warcraft.  My friend who was the one playing it gave me the info for the website but warned me not to start playing.  I watched the trailer.  I was hooked. 
 
http://media.worldofwarcraft.com/movies/video_loader/wow_video.htm?vid=wow-intro_en&dir=movies/wow_intro&rating=wow

I made my main character a druid because I wanted to be like the elf girl in the trailer that shape-shifts in to the cat...what can I say, this game spoke to the little girl in me, the one who always imagined there were fairies and gnomes living under every mushroom I saw in the woods, sprites riding fallen leaves down streams, and was convinced Big Foot lived near by and was determined to get him.  This was my chance to BE an elf, a druid, to fight those monsters and do cool things like fly in dragons and ride tigers.  This was my escape.  Of all the games I’d played over the years, this one, was really it, my complete escape from my day-to-day life.  For a little more than 2 and a half years I played practically every night.  It really was an addiction.  This is a game you play with other people so it was very different from the others, there was actually a social aspect to this.  Zach started playing too and we played together sometimes.  Even if we weren’t able to play at the same time, we could still talk about it, and that we did.  It gave me another connection to him.  It also earned me some serious cool points on the mom-meter, but, that was less important to me than our having something we could really share as he enters his teenage years here.  Over the last few months both of us have stopped playing as much as we used to, in fact, we rarely play at all these days.  We still have the connection though, because World of Warcraft  has a massive amount of lore - that is, back stories, written after the game was created to provide a history for it and all of the characters - and Zach and I are both huge fans.  He has 7 of the books now and is reading them avidly, reads some of them to me when we have the chance.  This is a big deal, Zach is not a tremendous fan of reading, but he loves these books.  How is that for irony?  Playing a video game got my son interested in reading!

Don’t misunderstand, we are not sedentary couch potatoes, Zach is a brown-belt in karate and I am on and off with the karate and work out when I can.  Josh keeps all of us busy and Zach is an A student in school.  So despite the game playing, our lives are still pretty well-rounded. 

I realize that there are those who really do fit the stereotype most people have of avid gamers - the geeky, mom’s basement living dudes who are socially inept but insanely good at games.  I’ve met some.  But there are also an awful lot of moms, dads, and kids  who are intelligent and outgoing who play too and simply find it entertaining, a good way to get away from stress and even connect with each other.